Monday, May 30, 2011

Baked Chicken with Pears, Spinach, and Blue Cheese

Sorry for the delay in a new post; as Rona mentioned, I graduated Boston University last weekend! With 3 guests crammed into my small apartment, while also trying to find the space to pack up my belongings, cooking just wasn't a priority. But I am now temporarily back at my parent's house, which feels like such an upgrade from my kitchen in Boston (although I still do miss it). There's something about being back home that makes me feel like a child again, not like the 21 year old college graduate that I am. I see how easy it will be for me to slack off and not cook nearly as much because I have my mom and dad here to make the food I miss all year while away at school. But I'll try to make sure that doesn't happen...

This dish is the first I have made since being home, and unfortunately I was rushed because I only had about an hour and a half to cook before meeting up with friends. While the pictures are sub-par,  I think the dish was pretty tasty. 

Ingredients (serves 4)
Adapted from Whole Foods

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts 
Sea salt
Black pepper 
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
1/2 cup red onion diced
4 to 6 cups packed spinach (not baby), washed, dried, stems removed 
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 
2 ripe Anjou pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 
3/4 cup blue cheese crumbles

I have to give my mom a shout out in this post: I took the parsley from her garden in our backyard, which not only saves me money, but feels more fresh than anything I could find in the supermarket. Thanks mom!


1) Preheat the oven to 375°.

2) Wash and season each chicken breast with salt and pepper. In a large, oven-proof dish (I used a dutch oven), heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and sear chicken breasts on each side for 3-4 minutes until lightly golden brown. Place dish in oven until chicken is cooked through, roughly 15 minutes. 

3) While the chicken is cooking, heat 1tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the red onion until softened. Add the spinach and cook until wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste, then transfer to a large serving dish. 

4) Wipe out the pan and heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, along with the 2 tablespoons of vinegar. Add the pears and heat until softened. Stir in parsley.  

5) After the chicken has cooked through, arrange over spinach. Top with cooked pears and sprinkle on blue cheese. And you're ready to serve!


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cheese Pastries

This past week has been so busy that unfortunately it has not included a lot of time for cooking. Instead, I was visiting Boston because Alyssa graduated over the past weekend. She is officially a college graduate! Yay!

After two weeks of poor eating habits due to studying, and then a long weekend in Boston spent eating at restaurants each meal, I have been craving some home cooked food. I decided to start with one of my favorite recipes: cheese pastries. I have made these pastries many times for different groups of people and I haven't encountered a person who hasn't liked them.

The idea of these pastries came from hatchipuri, a Georgian cheese bread, that I first tried when visiting Russia. They are also similar to a borek that can be found in Israel, Turkey, and other Mediterranean countries. But whatever you call them they taste delicious.

I love using Pepperidge Farm puff pastry dough, it is do easy to use and very versatile. You can find it in the freezer section of most grocery stores.

Makes 12 pieces

1 box of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry
2 cups of crumbled feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
2 eggs

1. Start by defrosting the dough for about 30 minutes, I like to work with it before it gets too soft. Preheat the oven to 375° F and line a large baking tray with aluminum foil or parchment paper.

2. Mix together the feta cheese, egg, and pepper in a large bowl.

3. The box contains two sheets of dough. Cut the dough into 12 pieces, 3 pieces along the fold and then 4 more even pieces and then do the same for the other sheet.

4. Lay all 12 pieces on the baking tray and place a large spoon of the cheese mixture in the middle.

5. Lay a piece of dough on top of the cheese and pinch the edges together until the dough forms a closed pastry.

6. Beat an egg in a mixing bowl. Use a pastry brush to coat the top of each pastry with egg.

7. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the dough rises and the tops are golden brown.



Sunday, May 15, 2011

Black Bean Soup

This soup is really easy and quick to make. Also, it is perfect when your fridge is empty and there is no trip to a market in sight.

I should preface this recipe for "quick" black bean soup by saying that while making the soup is fast, cleaning up after yourself may not be. The recipe requires using a food processor, which I find to be very convenient...until you have to wash it. One reason that my food processor/blender remained in a box in my bathroom, gathering dust, for at least six months. Now, a dish washer would certainly speed up the time spent cleaning up but those things are only for those of us who live in a world with large kitchens and modern appliances, something that I will continue to lack for the foreseeable future.

This soup tastes great when you add a spoon of sour cream or plain yogurt, some tortilla strips, and eat it with some bread and guacamole on the side (I actually think that I could find any excuse to eat guacamole, that is how this soup came about...from trying to think up of something that would serve as a compliment to the guacamole that I needed an excuse to make).

Also: I have made this soup several time and sometimes it just doesn't taste as good as it should.  The trick to making a good soup is to chop the onions and saute them so they get sweeter.  If you first run the onions through the food processor and then cook them in olive oil, they stay bitter and give the soup a bitter taste. 

Black Bean Soup
makes 4 portions

2 15-oz cans of black beans
1 cup of vegetable broth
1 small onion, cut into small pieces
1 clove of garlic, cut into small pieces
1 jalapeno pepper, cut into small pieces
Tabasco sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste
chopped cilantro for garnishing (optional)

1. Start by cuting the onion, garlic, and jalapeno. I did not cut the pieces too small because they will go through a food processor later.

2. In a small pot, heat olive oil on low heat and cook the onion, garlic, and jalapeno until the onion gets soft, for about 5 minutes. Add a few dashes tabasco sauce if you like spice.

3. Remove everything from the pot and pour into the food processor. Chop for several minutes until the pieces become small. Return it to the pot and add the vegetable broth.

4. Pour the black beans and the liquid into the food processor and chop until the beans break into pieces. They do not need much time, you want to be able to tell that there are small chunks of beans left.

5. Pour the beans into the pot and add the spices. Cook for several minutes until the soup heats up but does not start to boil.

Serve immediately.



Saturday, May 14, 2011

Grilled Veggie and Goat Cheese Pitas

As already mentioned in previous posts, Rona and I have been pretty busy lately studying for finals. But as of this past Thursday, I took my last final of my undergraduate career! Next step: graduation!! But for those of you who may still be taking finals, exhausted from work, or busy for any other reason, this recipe is something so simple that really came in handy while I was studying. It's easy to get caught up in work/school, so much so that your eating habits get thrown to the wayside. Luckily, this meal has very little prep time, is healthy, and most importantly, tastes great.

Ingredients (serves 1) 
2 large mushrooms (portobello or other kind), stems removed
1/2 zucchini, sliced
1/4 red onion, sliced
1/4 red bell pepper, thickly sliced 
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 
1/4 teaspoon sea salt 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
Fresh goat cheese 
4 whole wheat pitas, halved

This recipe is meant for a grill, but the closest thing I had was a grill pan so I made do. 


1) Combine vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper in a small mixing bowl. Brush vinegar mixture over sliced vegetables. 

2) Preheat grill (or oil grill pan) and put over medium heat.

3) Grill vegetables for 8-12 minutes, covered, until softened, turning a few times. 

4) Once cooked, set vegetables aside and toast pita.

5) Spread goat cheese in pitas, and stuff with vegetables. 

Nice and easy!


Moroccan Ratatouille

Way too much work to do + not enough time to cook = ?

A. Heating up frozen food
B. Take out Chinese food
C. Make a dish that will last for a several meals

Answer: C (Don't they always recommend to guess C when you don't know the answer to a multiple choice questions?)

Actually, all three of these scenarios have occurred over this very busy week of finals and not enough sleep. Luckily, I was able to prepare a dish that my parents introduced me to after they attended a cooking class. I am not sure what else they made in that class but this recipe has been repeated many times since. This is a dish that works well as a side at any time of the day and I imagine that it would be perfect for serving at dinner parties.

Moroccan Ratatouille
Adapted from Myra Kornfield
makes 4-6 portions

2 small onions, cut into half moons
2 red bell peppers, cored and cut into 1/4 inch thick strips
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick cubes
2 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
8 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
2 medium tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2 thick chunks
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a large baking tray or two small baking trays with aluminum foil.

2. In a large bowl, toss the onions, pepper, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, paprika, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Spread the vegetables on the tray, do not spread them too think to avoid burning.

3. Cook the vegetables for about 45 minutes. Stir the vegetables several times and add olive oil if they look like they are beginning to burn.

4. After 45 minutes, add in the tomatoes and continue cooking for another 30-50 minutes until the vegetables are brown and soft.

5. Pour the vegetables and juices into a bowl and mix in the cilantro and almonds. Serve warm.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Cheesecake Brownies

Alright, so I am smack in the middle of finals period. And if I am to admit a secret about my studying routine, I am a stress eater. Meaning, that during finals, when I am studying all day, I feel that I need to constantly eat in order to keep my energy level high enough to study.

Last semester, I had a day where I did not eat a meal, just snacks all day (not very satisfying). In order to avoid this type of situation, I have tried to minimize the temptations available and I have severely restricted the amount of junk food that enters my apartment.

But by enters, I really mean the junk food that I buy. This rule conveniently does not apply to what I can make from scratch.

This leads me to my next point...

Goodbye, any attempt at eating only healthy snacks...

Except for the fact that these are made with black beans...

Can you tell? Because the taste does not give it away!

And half of them will make their way to my last class of the semester for a snack day...

Welcome back, healthy snacks...

Cheesecake Brownies
 Makes about 20 brownies

1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
3 large eggs
1/3 melting butter
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat an oven to 350° F and butter a baking pan.

2. In a the bowl of a food processor, combine the black beans, eggs, melted butter, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, salt, vanilla, and sugar. Blend until smooth.

Cream cheese topping
8 oz cream cheese
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar

3. In a large mixing bowl beat the cream cheese, egg, sugar, and vanilla until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour most of the brownie batter into the pan and spread it evenly, leaving a small portion of the mixture. Pour the cream cheese mixture on top of the brownie mixture. 

5. Pour the reserved brownie mixture in various areas on top and use the handle of a wooden spoon to make a swirl pattern. Cook the brownies for 30-35 minutes.



Saturday, May 7, 2011

Black and White Cookies

I have never been as adept at baking as I am at cooking. Baking is so fickle! You are required to follow very precise measurements and instructions in a specific order. Try to rush the process of your bread rising and it will taste more like a brick than the fluffy goodness that you imagine (check).  Leave cookies in for a minute too long and suddenly they are burnt (check). Eat dry banana bread because you experiment with using apple sauce instead of oil (check). 

Even if you follow the recipe precisely, you may waste time, money and energy on a dessert that just turns out wrong. Alyssa can attest to the great cheesecake failure of 2010... Cheesecake, I am coming after you. You are now on my list of desserts to master.

Well, I decided to start baking more. A perfect idea as the temperature creeps up and running the oven for even a short time makes my small apartment feel like a sauna.

Step 1- Buy several essential fun supplies that were missing from my baking tools, as in cookie cutters and a icing decorating set (for future projects).

Step 2- Bake something you have made before in order to get warmed up: Black and White sugar cookies.

Black and White cookies 
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma
Makes about 4 dozen small cookies

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
16 Tbs (2 sticks) butter, melted
1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl and mix everything together with a wooden spoon. (I used whole wheat flour because I am trying to use it more than regular flour-this makes the white in the cookies slightly yellow).

2. Add the butter and mix until the flour mixture is moist.

3. Add the egg yolk, vanilla and continue mixing until the dough is created.

4. Split the dough in half. Pour the cocoa powder onto a clear surface and knead the cocoa powder into one half of the dough until the cocoa is incorporated.

5. Split the white dough into two pieces and the brown dough into two pieces.  Roll each piece until it is about 2 feet long and all four pieces are even. Press the sides of each piece against a flat surface until the dough is flat on each side and is in a rectangular shape.

6. Put the pieces on a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least half an hour until the dough is chilled.

7.  Preheat the oven to 350° F. Mix the other egg in a bowl. Arrange the four strips into a checker board pattern and use a pastry brush to brush the egg against each piece and press the pieces together.

8. Cut the entire block of dough into pieces that are about 1/4 inch thick. Place each piece on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the cookies feel firm when pressed lightly and the edges are just beginning to brown.



Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cottage Cheese Whole Wheat Pancakes

Although breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, it is also by far the most overlooked. With only 24 hours in a day, 8-10 of which are supposed to be dedicated to sleep, I am often guilty of rushing out of my apartment with a Nutri-Grain Bar, if even that. Yet breakfast is so extremely necessary for good health--it kick starts your metabolism, provides the energy you need to start your day, and is helpful for weight loss. 

Today's post is dedicated to a healthier spin on a breakfast favorite: warm fluffy pancakes! Like I said in my quinoa post, I have started a new habit of avoiding all enriched products. I substituted normal bleached flour for 100% whole wheat flour in this recipe to provide a great source of fiber. And I included cottage cheese in the pancake batter for added calcium and because,'s just delicious!

Ingredients (makes 6-8 pancakes) 
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
4 eggs
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons canola oil
Canola oil cooking spray

1. In a medium sized bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar. In a separate larger bowl, whisk together eggs, cottage cheese, milk, and oil. Add the dry flour mixture and whisk completely.

2. Spray a large skillet with cooking spray. Scoop approximately 1/2 cup of the patter and pour onto the pan. Make sure it spreads evenly and is not too thick. Cook until batter starts to bubble and the pancake is browned, then flip. 

3. Transfer to a plate, and continue with your next batch, spraying the pan with cooking spray every time. Then serve.

The great thing about this meal is that I still had pancakes leftover for tomorrow morning, so all I have to do is reheat and cut some more strawberries and I'll have a delicious breakfast in minutes! I'm all for eating my way towards a faster metabolism :)


Monday, May 2, 2011

Stuffed Vegetarian Eggplant

Eggplant has caught my attention recently... maybe it is because I keep seeing cute, small eggplant in the supermarket (including a white eggplant...I wonder if it actually tastes good?). I have never cooked with these smaller eggplant so I decided that it would be worth trying to find a recipe. Luckily, my Whole Foods iPhone app led me to a eggplant stuffed with couscous recipe. I simplified the recipe and changed some ingredients based on what I already had in my fridge. 

I can see this dish being prepared for a side dish or even as a light meal. With more protein, such as lentil, tofu, or ground beef, I think that it can be filling enough to serve as a main course.

Adapted from Whole Foods 
Makes 2-4 portions

3 cloves garlic
4 small eggplants
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
3/4 cups of uncooked couscous
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup of cottage cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

1. Bake the 3 cloves of garlic in an oven for about 20-25 minutes, until soft. When finished squeeze the softened garlic from the cloves.

2. Cut the tops off of each eggplant and then cut it in half. Use a knife to make several slices in the flesh of the eggplant. Be careful not to cut too deep or you will pierce the skin. Use a spoon to remove the majority of the eggplant flesh. Set the eggplant shells aside.

This can be done simultaneously to save time:

3. Dice the eggplant flesh that has just been removed. Heat olive oil in a sauce pan and add the diced onion.  Cook until the onion is soft. Then add the pepper, eggplant flesh, 2 tablespoons of water, salt, paprika, and pepper. Cover and cook on low heat for about 15 minutes until the eggplant has softened.

4. Heat olive oil in a pot. Pour the uncooked couscous and let brown for about 3-4 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and then cook for 10-15 minutes.

5. Combine the cooked couscous, eggplant mixture, cottage cheese, parsley, and softened garlic together and mix.

6. Scoop the mixture into each eggplant half.

7. Cover the tray of eggplants with aluminum foil and cook for 20-25 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for another 20 minutes, until the tops are brown and the eggplant shell is softened.